Q: Hi, we're here with Evert Somer who is here to talk about the recent civil emergency exercise that was held in Croatia. What was the purpose of the civil emergency exercise?
EVERT SOMER (NATO Civil Emergency Planning): I think there are many purposes that we try to find in exercises like "Idassa 2007". This is of course not the first one because we have been doing, I think, about seven in the meantime.
But I would like to summarize it to the most important ones. I think firstly, it is of course to improve or to strengthen the capacity of nations to deal with emergency situations.
In this particular case, we had a mixture of an earthquake, some terrorist aspects, maybe a little bit of strange mixture, but let's play that later. In other words: to strengthen the capacity to deal with that, also to receive international assistance. Because that is of course always a tricky issue. It sometimes looks nice to ask for assistance, to get it. But of course, when it's there, you need to coordinate it and you need to be able to deal with that to provide some assistance also to these teams.
The second part I'd would like to say is basically during an exercise we have quite a number of international teams together who will have to work together... side by side sometimes on a site to do search-and-rescue or to do medical care. And that's always better to do than an exercise, then to have to learn the hard way in a real emergency.
In this exercise, we have been going a little bit further than working side by side. Basically, what we try this time was to integrate teams so that teams from different nations would try to perform the same task, but then would have to jointly.
Q: Okay. How many teams participate in this exercise? And what have been the biggest challenges so far?
SOMER: This was far and away the largest exercise that we have been doing in... since 2000. We had the response team from 21 nations, 21 EAPC nations participating in the exercise, different skills: for instance, to deal with search and rescue. Others: to deal with contamination, chemical contamination, biological contamination. Others were dealing with the medical response in case of an emergency.
But as I said earlier, one of the biggest challenges in exercises, and also in real emergencies, is how are you going to coordinate these activities, how you're going to steer them, how you're going to bring them in the right perspective. So in addition to these teams from 21 nations, we had 14 nations who provided additional staff, for instance to work in the coordination mechanism, also to work in what we call directing staff who is needed to direct the exercise. So should we add it all up we had some 35 nations participating in the exercise.
The biggest challenge I would say is... that's, I think, in every exercise the case... to give all the participants sufficient work to do, which is within their skills. And I must admit that the organizer of these exercises has been doing a wonderful job in this. Because I think most of the teams at the end of the day were so exhausted that they said: "Please do not give us another task."
Q: Excellent. Were there any specific lessons learned that would be fit in planning for real life operations?
SOMER: During exercises the main thing you would like to achieve is that you learn lessons for future operations. I think we learned valuable lessons on interoperability, how things can work together. As I mentioned earlier, we're talking about integrating teams together. We learned interesting lessons about minimum standards, guidelines, procedures. So I think there are quite a few things that came out of this exercise which will be of importance for future exercises and future operations.
Of course, we still have to wait for the report from the assessors who were in the field, assessing all the activities. We hope to receive that in one or two weeks. And that of course, will identify more specific lessons. And that, of course, for a next exercise will be taken into consideration.
Q: In your opinion, what was the outcome of the operation... or exercise?
SOMER: I think, honestly, that it was a very successful exercise. And it's not because we say it always. I think we managed to have a realistic scenario where people participating in the exercise could do work that they normally would do also in a real emergency. That was coming as close as possible to the reality. And I think that was one of the major outcomes of this successful exercise that we, really, were very close to what could happen and what teams could face in a real situation.
Q: This time, it was only a fictitious event, but what's NATO's role in case of a real humanitarian emergency?
SOMER: NATO has quite some experience in the field of disaster response [...inaudible...] I think more than 50 years. The major role of NATO in this field is basically to mobilize assistance. Nations have a lot of resources that they have to deal with emergency situations. Sometimes, nations who are stricken by a major disaster have shortfalls. The role of NATO is then to identify the shortfalls as to... based on a request from a nation, to go out to the nations of EAPC who have these resources and basically mobilise them.
Once we have found the resources, the following task is to assist the stricken nation but also the assisting nation in bringing the assistance to the place where it is needed.
Q: Where is the next civil emergency going to take place?
SOMER: The next exercise is going to take place in Helsinki, in Finland. The timeframe is 6th to 11th of June 2008. The formal planning will start early September of this year. So we have quite a limit of time to prepare well for the exercise. As it looks now the scenario will include floods, storms, particularly affecting critical infrastructure, because of course that is an interesting subject. Or the scenario might include... because that's not sure yet because of all these discussions that are going on... also a chemical, biological or radiological threat.